Unvaccinated Calgary firefighters or police ‘completely unacceptable’: Woolley

Dozens of people stand in formation in front of Calgary city hall on Sep. 7, 2021, to protest a vaccine mandate for city employees. Global News

A Calgary councillor is speaking out against Calgary police and firefighters who are opposed to a vaccine mandate for city employees.

“The idea that you would have a firefighter opposed to getting vaccinated when that firefighter would be expected to give a citizen in need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation — which happens all the time — that that person would make a decision not to get vaccinated is frankly completely unacceptable,” Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley said Wednesday.

“Their sole duty — for both police and fire — is to keep our citizens safe. And outside of the very, very small percentage of firefighters who might have a medical condition which does not allow that — for someone to make that decision out of choice is frankly unacceptable to me.”

Woolley said he has raised his concerns with Calgary fire chief Steve Dongworth and city manager David Duckworth, recognizing there could be legitimate reasons for exemptions.

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The comments come a day after dozens of people held a protest against the vaccine mandate for City of Calgary employees.

Protest organizers claim police officers, firefighters and EMS workers were in attendance, but Global News was unable to verify that claim.

The protest included attendees standing in paramilitary formations in front of city hall and the municipal building.

On social media, the Calgary Firefighters Association said it was aware of a video that included some of its members attending that protest.

“Approximately 85% of our members are vaccinated for COVID-19,” the social media post read. “Vaccinations are an important part of keeping our members, their families and the public safe.”

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CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said he is working with experts and city officials on this “complex issue.”

“There are many nuanced factors to consider, and we need to listen and work with our members and the relevant unions prior to making a decision on mandatory vaccinations or testing/screening of Calgary Police Service members,” Neufeld said in a statement to Global News.

The police chief said he supports the right to peaceful protest and encourages CPS members to be patient during the decision-making process.

“As a service, we continue to encourage eligible members to get vaccinated and believe it is the most effective way to ensure the safety of our members as well as the public we serve.”

The CPS said it wasn’t aware of any on-duty members attending the protest.

Neither the Calgary Police Association, nor the Calgary Fire Department responded to requests for comment.

In a statement to Global News, Duckworth said the city is taking “every reasonable precaution to provide a healthy and safe workplace.”

“The city respects an individual’s right to disagree with and peacefully protest the city’s COVID-19 vaccination policy; however, it is our responsibility as an employer to provide a healthy and safe workplace,” the city manager said. “The best defence against COVID-19 is vaccination, and this policy is intended to maximize vaccination rates among city employees.”

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In an emailed statement, Calgary Police Commission chair Bonita Croft told Global News that she was aware of the protest on Tuesday, but was unable to confirm if CPS members were in attendance.

At the last public meeting of the Calgary Police Commission on June 29, CPS deputy chief Chad Tawfik said he didn’t know what percentage of officers have gotten their shots.

“Feedback indicates that many of our members have actively sought out vaccination; however, due to privacy aspects we’ve not been tracking that formally,” Tawfik said at the time.

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Croft said the commission hasn’t had an opportunity to meet since the city employee vaccine mandate was announced.

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“There will be an opportunity to hear from the service on this important issue at the next regularly scheduled meeting,” Croft said, adding the civilian police oversight body encourages all citizens, officers and commission members to get vaccinated.

On Friday, Duckworth announced a mandatory vaccine policy for all City of Calgary employees. Full vaccination must be completed by Nov. 1.

Woolley said the decision on vaccines as terms for employment is a decision made by executives in city, police and firefighter administration, not city council.

“Whether it’s the chief of police, the chief of the fire department or the city manager himself, these are decisions that are being made at that level,” Woolley said, acknowledging the details are still being worked out.

“For either the chiefs of either the police or the fire department or the city manager to not make it mandatory for those who are particularly frontline serving our citizens to not be vaccinated and to continue to remain in their role seems crazy to me.”

The outgoing Ward 8 representative believes most police officers have already been vaccinated.

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“I think the vast majority — the vast, vast majority — of our sworn police officers and of our firefighters who are serving us are vaccinated already,” Woolley said.

“Just like in Calgary writ large, it’s a very small percentage of people who are anti-mask and anti-vax.”

— with files from Tomasia DaSilva, Global News

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